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10 ideas that won’t be on the next president’s tech agenda but should be

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In pursuit of empathetic machines

As November 8th creeps closer, we’ve still heard little from our presidential candidates about a key policy area: technology.

There’s no denying the growing role of technology in our economy, in our culture, and in our lives, and yet the conversation to date has been somewhat limited to a myopic sliver of the tech universe— the place where privacy and homeland security overlap.

Campaign season should be more than just stump speeches; it’s a chance for us to evaluate how our future leader will handle the many tech opportunities and challenges ahead. In the absence of a clear vision from any of the candidates, we’ve laid out a tech agenda that could drive innovation in health and safety, create new high-paying jobs and help us prepare for the dramatic technological advancements we’ll see during this next president’s tenure.

Ubiquitous. Gigabit. Wireless. For everyone.

Our next president should rethink the way the federal government allocates spectrum. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology’s 2012 report laid the framework for taking advantage of the massive public resource we call the RF spectrum, proposing increased efficiency via sharing.

With shared access between the public, telecom and mobile carriers, and the government, we can clear the way for incredibly fast wireless across the country. This would open up opportunities for new service providers, increase competition, and ensure the maximum possible utilization of this valuable asset— all while addressing our nation’s spiraling data needs.

The U.N. has classified internet access as a basic human right yet 1 in 10 people in our country still lack access at home; it’s time we connect millions of offline Americans to jobs, education, and the online economy.

Create Federal User Experience Guidelines to enable better citizen interactions.

Apple has HIG, Android has Material, so why does our federal government’s web presence look like a patchwork quilt of 1990s web?  Good design has a multiplicative positive effect: it makes everything it touches more intuitive, more efficient, and more pleasant.

Bad UX creates barriers that prevent people from getting what they need from government, from taxes, to visa forms, to voter registration. 18F and the USDS have taken the first step in creating a set of web design standards for consistent UX across federal government — our next president now needs to implement and expand on that work, and take it a step farther to drive better real-life user experiences, too. Could the federal government be as easy to use as Gmail?

Develop responsible drone regulations to encourage safe technological progress.

Drones are more than just flying cameras and national defense tools: they stand to revolutionize the way we travel, deliver goods, and provide services in urban and rural environments alike.

The federal government can clear the path for advancement by creating clear regulations that encourage development and experimentation while protecting the public’s safety. By the time the next president’s first term is over, drones and bots will be rapidly becoming part of our daily lives. Let’s lay the groundwork to make sure this happens safely.

Create incentives for autonomous vehicle innovation to save lives and the environment.

Since Henry Ford, the U.S. has been a car-driven nation. But those cars killed more than 38,000 Americans last year and are a large source of air pollutants. If implemented smartly, autonomous vehicles stand to move the needle on both issues, helping us travel more efficiently and safely.

Federal government can play a big role in shaping the future of AVs. By building on efforts like the DOT Smart Cities Challenge to create designated AV innovation zones in top US cities, and by giving AVs benefits on America’s roads and highways— think HOV lane access like electric cars— the next President can help spark AV innovation and adoption at the local and national level.

Implement Computer Vision and sensor guidelines to protect privacy and foster advancement. 

Face it, video cameras and sensors are a part of our daily lives. From the supermarket, to the restaurant, to the intersection in your neighborhood, you’re on camera.  With camera density around our cities nearing ubiquity, it’s only a matter of time before computer vision algorithms start to crop up in each of these devices.

CV has massive potential to improve our lives, but we need to implement it responsibly to protect the safety and privacy of the public. By creating clear national guidelines, our next President could steer CV to drive more user-centric value, setting a global precedent in the U.S.

Foster hybrid online/offline education to create a generation ready for the future.

We’ve talked a lot about creating digital fluency in our students with technology in the classroom, but in most American schools we’re still struggling to integrate technology effectively.

Done right, the start-up world’s interactive education tools (like Kahoot! and Kahn Academy) could create a learning environment that serves all kinds of learning differences in students, enables real-time insights into on student’s progress and weaknesses for teachers, and can extend the classroom at home and after school. The tools are there; the training, mandate, and methods are not.

If we set a new national standard, our next president’s first term could be the moment when we finally create a successful mixture of online and in-class curriculum that takes advantage of the best of both worlds: individual student pacing online and at home, paired with real-world collaboration and activities in class.

Digitize congress to make government transparent (and maybe even work). 

 If we can get kids using computers, surely we can get our government to, too. Imagine what could happen to transparency if we truly digitized Congress, taking them from an electronic card voting system from the 70s in the House and roll call voting in the Senate to transparent, real-time, online attendance and voting reporting.

Paired with user-friendly, indexed, and searchable digitized bills and information in one easy-to-access verified location, we could give Americans insight into how decisions are really getting made— and create a sense of real-time accountability for our lawmakers.

Make secure online voting and voter registration a national standard to bring new populations into the civic process. 

Our nation was founded on the idea that citizens deserve a voice and therefore a vote. And yet today, difficulties in getting to the polls, taking time off from work, and outdated voter registration processes are barriers that prevent countless of Americans from making their voices heard.

With more and more of our most private interactions happening online—banking, filing taxes, communicating with loved ones— and with today’s security, encryption, and authentication capabilities, we’re running out of excuses: our next president should make online voting and voter registration a national standard.

Cities in Canada experimented with it and had a 300% increase in voter turnout; Estonia’s been doing it for years. Voting is our civic right, and the effect of empowering so many Americans— including many underserved populations and elusive millennial voters— could be election-changing.

Leverage big data and machine learning to find federal efficiencies.

The federal government has enormous databases on the activity of our country. Too much of this data still sits in siloed systems that don’t work together. and the open data movement have made preliminary progress in opening up government data to civic hackers, but we’ve only scratched the surface.  Could we unlock a new generation of urban scientists by publishing and collecting data on activity within our cities? Could applying AI to vast stores of government data help us rethink decades old processes?

Could we go even farther, reimagining old services like turning every letter carrier into a human “sensor, with wearables to detect air quality and conditions at the homes and businesses they visit each day? By creating a standard format for data, pushing for real-time reporting, and applying AI to help create insights, imagine the possibilities and efficiencies that our next President could create.

Support a Universal Users’ Bill of Rights to protect our privacy and safety.  

There’s no denying it: thanks to Tim Cook, encryption and privacy is top of mind this cycle. But rather than getting mired in “Manhattan projects” or terrorism hunting algorithms, we should focus presidential attention on supporting a more comprehensive, pro-user approach— a Universal User’s Bill of Rights.

A digital version of that famous founding document could ensure a fair and safe online life for our increasingly connected country. Our next president could use the bully pulpit to empower our nation’s best and brightest to create and implement this standard of online expectations, including things like encryption standards, privacy policy, or a universal Terms of Service agreement to replace the thousands we blindly agree to. The billions of dollars spent in federal procurement could certainly serve as a strong incentive for early adopters.

Now is the time for our candidates to get serious and thoughtful about their plans for technology in America; development and advancement will continue without them if they don’t. For decades, the US was a global tech leader– the Manhattan Project in the 40s, aerospace in the 50s and 60s, and personal computing in the 70s and 80s.

With smart policy to guide the progress and integration of evolving computer capabilities and intelligence into our lives, we could reclaim this leadership position and make the U.S. a better place to live for all Americans.

By focusing on what technology can do for us, not on what it shouldn’t do, our next president can guide our county to a more equitable and connected future, leading the globe with a developing aspect of tech— the human side.

And candidates: let the tech sector be more than just donors; let us help you improve our country, one bit at a time.

Featured Image: Kheng Guan Toh/Shutterstock